My Father’s New Family

I felt threatened when my dad remarried and had another child, but now I want my little sister in my life.

by Jaya Arellano


Names have been changed.

It was Christmas Eve, just after my 12th birthday. My parents had divorced earlier that year, and I had just found out that my dad had already married someone else. I’d never even met his girlfriend-now-wife. 

My dad picked up my younger sister Ana and me outside our mom’s to take us to the mall to Christmas shop. I was all set to tell him how hurt I was that he didn’t tell us about his wedding and that he was a bad father. 

But as I got into the passenger seat, I couldn’t say any of it. The truth was, I just missed him. I missed seeing and spending as much time as I could with him. We said our awkward greetings, talked a bit, and then he dropped the bomb. 

“I’m having another baby.”

My stomach dropped. “I knew it,” I said. I didn’t know it. My mom had made a snarky comment about a baby a few months ago after we learned he was married, but I didn’t think he’d actually have another kid.

I exchanged a look with my sister, who was sitting in the backseat. I could tell she was shocked too. The car ride to the mall was quiet. I couldn’t shake the thought: I’m going to be replaced

A month or so later, I met his wife. She was perfectly nice, but I felt like my dad was replacing my mom right after their divorce, and I was disgusted with him for marrying a girl barely older than my older brother Joshua, who’s 24 and has a different mom. 

My dad’s new daughter was born the following June. He came to take Ana and me to the hospital to meet baby Penelope, but I refused to go, so Ana went alone. 

Soon after the birth, my dad and his new family moved to Connecticut. I was angry. My brother, sister and I had lived in New York City our whole lives, and he moved three hours away from us. I decided I wouldn’t speak to him or see him ever again. I wanted to protect myself from constantly being hurt by his wounding comments and inconsistency in my life.

Digging Deeper

 During the pandemic, I struggled with my mental health. I went to several therapists and dug deeper into my past and my feelings about my dad. I told my first therapist about him leaving, his fights with my mom, his criticisms of me and him taking out his anger on my siblings and me. In therapy, I realized just how bad a father he was.

My therapist and I figured out that I had taken the baby news hard because, despite his leaving us, I always thought I was my dad’s favorite. We share the same big forehead, same nose, same color hair and eyes. We also share some personality traits, including humor, impatience, and a quickness to anger. My mom sometimes says, “You’re just like your father,” when we argue, which makes me feel horrible.

But he’s never actually been a decent parent to any of his kids. He was only 18 when Joshua was born, and Joshua ended up living with his maternal grandmother. His toxic on-and-off again relationship with my mom meant he was not around a lot for my sister Ana and me either.

My siblings and I spent our childhood afraid of him and tried to be perfect to please him. He “disciplined” us with verbal and sometimes physical abuse. He’d scream at us for simple mistakes and make us cry. He’d threaten to not visit us when he and my mom were separated—and sometimes he followed through. 

When I was younger, I didn’t understand why I felt knots in my stomach every time he came to pick us up. Only later did I realize that was fear. When he wasn’t there, I didn’t have to worry about being picked apart: “Why do you wear your hair that way?” “Why are you eating that?” “Stop crying, you don’t need to.” I didn’t have to worry about being a punching bag for his anger issues. 

In therapy, I acknowledged and validated my anger at my father: The way he treated my siblings and me was wrong. But I’d take that anger out on the rest of my family by yelling, starting arguments, and isolating myself. For my own sake, my therapist and I worked on letting that anger go. 

OK Without Him?

After a while, I told my therapists (and myself) that I was content with the fact that I’d probably never have a relationship with my father. After healing and letting go of my anger toward him, I didn’t need to speak with him.

But after Penelope was born, I felt like she was getting what I never did: a father who was consistently in her life. It felt ridiculous to be jealous of a toddler, but I wanted my dad to show up for me.  

I’d tell my mom, “I wish he made an effort to see us, to know us.” She’d tell me that it wasn’t my fault and that I can’t change him.  

My dad was extremely critical. He expected us to have perfect grades, even though he never came to parent-teacher conferences or learned our teachers’ names. My mother was strict with us, but never made us feel less than for not being perfect the way he did, with his frequent criticism of our appearance and way of speaking to him.

This past summer, when I was 16, I opened up to the idea of reconnecting with my father.

This past summer, when I was 16, I opened up to the idea of reconnecting with my father. I’d done so much healing in the four years since I’d seen him, but it still felt like something was missing. The fact that I had another sister that I’d never know bothered me more than I’d expected it to. But I also worried that seeing him might bring back the resentment and anger that I’d worked so hard to let go of.

As I wrestled with what to do, my father told my mother that he’d be coming to New York and wanted to see Ana and me. I agreed to meet with him. 

On the day of our visit, I put on what I usually wear: a T-shirt and leggings. As Ana and I walked down the stairs to meet him, my heart pounded. Stepping outside, I saw a big man in a tight shirt. I didn’t recognize my father: 100 pounds heavier than the last time I saw him and aged far more than four years. He looked like a different person. 

Then he saw me and said: “Why are your pants so tight?” 

I was stunned into silence. What the hell? He hadn’t changed at all—still critical, still mean. Reuniting was a mistake, I thought.

Then I saw the tiny girl holding his hand. She had on a summer dress and semi-permanent purple hair. She was adorable. 

“Do You Know Who They Are?”

Seeing Penelope, I felt a pang of regret. Why have I been so stubborn? Why did I refuse to meet her? She reminded me of Joshua with her brown skin and Ana with her tight curls. 

“Do you know who they are?” my father asked her gently, holding her hand. I wondered if he was like this with Ana and me when we were little.

“My sisters,” her tiny voice answered back. She smiled, but I could tell she was nervous. All my envy and anger disappeared. She was a 4-year-old girl, and I felt that she was part of what I was missing in my life. 

I let the comment about my leggings go. My dad, Penelope, Ana and I went upstairs and had a conversation, my mom sitting next to Ana and me. I told him I felt betrayed when he left for good, about how his “discipline” had scared me, and how his inconsistency in our lives hurt. Ana spoke up a few times to agree with me. It felt empowering, thrilling and healing to stand up for my little sister and myself. To tell my dad exactly how I felt and not hold back. 

He apologized and started sobbing, begging for a hug from the both of us. I felt uneasy watching him cry: It felt manipulative. But I still felt sorry for him, so I gave him the hug. Now, looking back, it seems like it might have been an act to draw us back in, to control us. Nevertheless, I unblocked his number.

She’ll Have a Big Sister

There’s not a fairytale ending. After that, my father and I texted once in a while, but only if I texted first. As much as I appreciated our conversation where I told him my side, I could tell he hadn’t really changed. It was still on me to initiate our communication. 

As I was about to start 12th grade, I told my Dad I wanted a Playstation 5. He invited me to spend the weekend at his house in Connecticut, and said if I came, he’d buy it for me. I wanted the console, so I said yes. 

My dad picked Ana and me up, and I regretted my decision as soon as I got in the car. He immediately asked me to feed Penelope and take her to the bathroom, like it was my job to take care of HIS daughter. Yes, I wanted to be a part of her life, but not as her parent. 

When we got to the house, he gave us a tour. I felt suffocated there and my dad felt like a stranger. I wanted to go home. I’m pretty sure Ana felt the same way too, but then Penelope asked us to play with her. 

We played with her baby dolls, Etch-a-Sketch and Play Doh. Ana and I laughed at her one liners: “Why don’t you guys speak Spanish, it’s so much fun!” By the first night, I was feeling OK staying the rest of the weekend. 

That weekend, my dad’s new wife took Ana, Penelope, and me to the beach and restaurants. We got to know our little sister. My dad separated himself during most of the trip – on the phone, watching TV, or taking impromptu trips to the store. (He did give me the Playstation.)

Since then we’ve visited a few more times, and it’s always the same routine. Ana and I hang out with Penelope while her mom’s at work, until she eventually tires us both out, while my dad spends his weekend away from us. 

My dad hurt me deeply when he had Penelope and moved away. But I’m accepting his limitations as a father, and, strangely, it’s Penelope who I want in my family now. 

Seeing Penelope’s relationship with my dad reminds me of ours when I was her age. She copies everything he does and begs him to spend time with her. He may hurt her the way he hurt me, but if that happens, she’ll have a big sister to help her through. 

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